Ohio State progression from PS to PS Pro Part 1 – Email Archives

Posted: December 28, 2019 in All Things Power Spread
*the following post is based on an email I wrote this past October
Back to the Future

I love looking back. Hindsight really is 20/20.
It makes me wonder if Teams should start hiring people for just this concept. I don’t think this is a popular idea yet as our technology driven society is obsessed with the “what’s next” mentality.

Interstingly we have seen this concept work with coaches who have taken time off from the profession and looked around to gain a broader perspective, before forging ahead with a new creation. Four examples immediately come to mind in Frank Solich, Morris Watts, Troy Taylor and Mack Brown.

Here I go as I review the Franklin Era of PSU vs OSU in prep for the 6th version of this game.

A Power Spread Base

The following examines the Offense of Ohio State during the Urban Meyer reign, which still continues with Ryan Day. A closer look at the background of not only Urban, but his 2 main Offensive Coordinators before Ryan Day showed up.

Urban was one of the PS Triumverate that made Power Spread the name of the game across the College Football landscape during the 00s. By the time he came to Ohio State, PS Offense was already starting to sync up with the Air Raid to form the PSAR, led by Dana Holgerson.

The Air Raid is a very different philosophy from the Pro Style philosophy that Urban based is Power Spread upon. Of the PS Triumverate – Urban was more towards the Pro Style than the other two – Gus Malzahn (WingT) and Art Briles (Veer & Shoot).

There are many misunderstandings and arguements about the Air Raid concept vs the Pro concept. What I want to focus on here is the idea of QB Responsibility vs WR Responsibilty.

QB Responsibility vs WR Responsibility

Before I go any further I must explain this idea. A concept that eluded me when first commenting on our struggles on Offense after Herman left.

*(Manny Matsakis, whom I have included in this email, would know what I am about to discuss in far greater detail as he actually learned the roots of Power Spread on a first hand basis with the man/men that created it)

Urban Meyer has QB Centric Pro Roots and relied on this idea when first developing his Power Spread Offense. The Pro Passing game started with Sid Gillman. The QB Centric game started even earlier with Clark Shaughnessy and George Halas and the invention of the Modern T. From the 1940s to the present time, the position of QB became the focal point of offense and carried the majority of the burden, not only in the pass game, but in ball handling responsibilities (Option in College) as well as leadership of the whole team. 

The Air Raid of Mumme/Leach took some of that responsibility off the QB, by sharing it with the WRs. This is the main element they took from the R&S – along with Mouse Davis’ pass-centric version of Tiger Ellison’s original creation. The Power Spread Offenses of the 00s were spreading across the whole of College Football by 2010. A universal effort to evolve these offenses took place when Dana Holgerson (preceded by Tony Franklin and others), found a way to mesh Power Spread ideals with Air Raid Principles. PSAR. 

Here’s the challenge with running a PSAR. From what I know of the Air Raid, it is very much the Flexbone (via the Wishbone) of the Spread Passing Game. Contradicting it’s name, the Flexbone developed into a rigid system of Spread Running. A very specific scheme/concept that can be perfected through continual repition. First, in practice, then on the field. This is the way Leach developed his Pass Spread version of the Air Raid. Simple repetition – where each player has heightened responsibility through specific assignments – taking pressure off any one player. A real Team Concept, but with a lack of flexibility when mixed with other ideas. 

There are those who say – “Wait a minute! The Air Raid is not inflexible. It’s a philosophy that has been combined with other ideas.” I would say – yes it has – but not because of the flexibility of the Air Raid, but the flexibility of Power Spread. can be combined with PS ideas. Not because the Air Raid is flexible, but because Power Spread. Whether anyone knows or calls it by that name – the whole PS Ideal is based on Aggressive Flexible Variety – OR – at least for now – Aggressive Variety. So PSAR can work – it’s just not easy for coaches who are used to teaching Pro QB Responsiblity. Like Urban Meyer and others. 

Here is a look at Urban Meyer’s Power Spread Offense in the years 2014-2019 as I reviewed the Penn State games in each of those years.

Pro Roots of Urban Meyer, Tom Herman and Tim Beck*

What are Pro Roots? Simply those coaches who learned the most influential style of football in the last 50+ years. It’s a 2RB, 1TE, 2WR set with the QB under center. The passing game is the West Coast Offense or WCO. Don Coryell, then Bill Walsh perfected Gillman’s spread pass offense and Mike Martz perfected it into a Pro Spread Pass. Eventually the 21 Personnel (2RBs/1TE) was replaced with the 12 and 11 personnel. 3Wrs became 4 and 5 at times in 1 and no back sets.

The main idea was always with the protection of the QB in the Pocket and the QB as the focal point of responsibility. No Option football or QB Runs like in college nor the option routes of the WRs. All based on timing and the QBs ability at reading defenses (read progressions).

Meyer’s Pro Roots

Meyer has interesting roots. Born in Toledo, he has to have Pro power roots and maybe even some wishbone that Ohio State ran for so long under Woody. 

His time at Cincinnati was under a guy named Dave Currey. He was an offensive coach under Jack Christiansen who was under John Ralston. Ralston was all about Gillman and even coached Walsh, Levy, White – all that WCO. Christiansen was a good player who was at SanFran under Red Hickey who introduced the shotgun to the NFL. Got it from Dutch Meyer – no shit. 

Here’s the thing. Currey was HC at Long Beach State, right before he came to Cincy, Soon after he left, LBeach started implementing some sort of spread, but with a TE. The WRs/OC there was Mike Sanford, who worked with Urban at ND,then again at Utah. Sanford has many times claimed responsibility for Urban’s Power Spread. 

*I had extensive talks years ago with the coach of one the first Spread teams in Texas HS. He used a TE and more pro power than the popular R&S. This led to a lot of spread schemes in Texas, including Briles. This coach specifically told me he got his offense from Sanford at Long Beach. Sanford visited with him at least once during that time.

So basically Urban was a Pro power guy with some WCO when he got to Sonny Lubick and Lou Holtz. Lubick was from the Dennis Erickson (Neumeir R&S) OneBack. Holtz invented the Twin Veer. Twins to one side out of the Pro Set with the Triple Option. A very pre form of power spread. 

Still, Holtz would fall back a lot on the Pro and WC stuff. Really Lubick was the closest Urban got to the Spread. And even that was power heavy with Lubick. So Urban was a Pro guy, but with some other inklings of spread. Possibly the biggest inkling from Sanford when they were at ND together.

Herman’s Pro Roots

Herman was born in Cincinnati but at an early age moved  CA – home of West Coast Offense. He eventually ended up at Texas State right after Manny Matsakis coached there. Herman was most certainly influenced by Manny’s PS Triple Shoot ideas at Texas State, but up until that time was a standard WCO coach.

Beck Pro Roots

Beck was born in Youngstown OH and went to Cardinal Mooney. He knew both the Stoops and  Pellinis. This is Pro run heavy offense with possible Wishbone Option roots as well. 

When Beck ended up at  KState (Stoops) all of this changed. Bill Snyder was Haden Fry’s DC at Iowa. The Stoops bros played for Haden on Defense under Snyder. Snyder had many great coaches under him during his KState reign. One of them was Manny Matsakis.

Even though Snyder was a defensive coach, he was close to Fry and learned a lot about Offense from Haden. Fry had his own unique strategy to Offense. He was a Pro guy in the Lombardi(power) or Stram(spread) mold like so many of the time. The interesting note on Fry is his Texas roots, which most certainly made him very aware of the Dutch Meyer(Rusty Russell) Spread Offense. Throughout his life, Fry combined elements of power and spread in his Pro Style Offense.

Snyder took this idea and possibly some ideas from his assistants (Manny was already had  PS ideas when he was at KState) to form an early version of Power Spread that greatly influencd Urban Meyer’s Power Spread Creation. Again, Snyder ran a Pro Style offense, but with the multi talented Michael Bishop at QB, he ran a sort of Gun to Run Offense with great success.  

Beck followed Snyder’s OC Del Miller to Missouri State to help him run this early version of Pro Style power spread. 

So what are their “Spread” roots?*

Unlike the Pro concept, the Spread idea really comes from a source long ago. Rusty Russell in the 1920s, who spread the field with 5 WRs way ahead of his time. Russell’s close friend and colleague, Dutch Meyer, somewhat popularized the idea, but only on a small level and only in college football. Though Red Hickey’s introduction of the Shotgun – direct snap to the QB not under center – came directly from DMeyer’s Spread Formation.

Tiger Ellison had to know about Dutch Meyer’s Spread Formation book in the 1950s/60s and had his own epiphany that led to his Run and Shoot ideal that changed football forever more. Any type of Spread football comes from this R&S concept through the Triumverate of Jack Neumeir, Red Faught and Mouse Davis.

Neumeir’s R&S became today’s Pro OneBack Set that Gillman forecasted would one day take over the game. Mouse popularized the idea of a full 4WR Pass Spread for a whole game. All of the R&S concepts incorporated WR Responsiblity in the form of Option Routes and finding Open Space.

Urban Spread – Power Spread

So as I said above – I think Sanford may have been the first to influence Urban to think “Spread” – Athletes in Space. From there Urban used Sonny Lubick’s Erickson/Neumeir connections to learn spread passing from Bobby Petrino and his protege Scott Linehan. That was the base. The Spread. 

What Urban did is find a great way to mesh the Power that he also grew up with and loved with the Spread. For this he went to a top coach he knew – Randy Walker who was running an early version of PS with his OC Kevin Wilson. The root of PS is the Read Option, which Wilson learned from RO creator Rich Rodriguez. So Urban ended up talking to RichRod next.

Maybe the biggest influence on Urban was Bill Snyder. We come full circle. Snyder’s understanding of how to mesh Power and Spread was very strong from his time with Haden Fry. Urban loved the Gun to Run with Bishop creating a #s edge in the box. He also learned all the tricks of the HC trade that Snyder employed and learned from Fry. 

Herman Spread – PS 2020

Herman had a heavy WCO background and definitely was and still is developing his own style of PS Offense. I call it PS 2020, because I feel it’s something that will be more defined in the next decade. 

LIke Meyer, Herman really liked to spread the field to open up power running. But Herman has a R&S or should I say Triple Shoot feel to his Offense – what he learned from Manny’s Offense. Thus with Herman we saw more jet sweeps and tempo than in Meyer’s previous offenses. 

Herman also mixes in his staple WCO routes with some of the AR stuff he may have learned during his time in Texas. Whatever he does, Herman usually works on the cutting edge of Power Spread – thus PS 2020.

Beck Spread – PSAR Hybrid

After running the Snyder stuff with Del Miller at Missouri St, Beck became his own HC at 2 different Texas High Schools. Unfortunately, I don’t have any info on Beck from this time except that he ran a great Spread Offense. My guess is that it had some Air Raid from Leach at TTech and maybe some of Briles Veer&Shoot at Houston as well.  

Whatever Beck ran in HS, we know that he became a part of the Air Raid family at Kansas under Manginio. Mangino was another KState guy under Snyder. So more of a Pro Gun and Run spread. But he had one year under Leach at OU. Then two with KWilson (ReadOption). So a Power Spread with both WC and AR concepts. 

Beck moved on to Nebraska where he was first under Shawn Watson and his WC Spread he learned from Bill Calahan. Pellini wanted more power so he promoted Beck. This is where I mostly saw Beck’s creative outside zone run options and spread pass schemes. It always looked very Holgerson PSAR like. Beck would also run some multiple shifts and crossing routes which I think he learned from Watson.

Meyer knew Beck from the Snyder line, but Beck wasn’t a pure PS or Pro guy. Beck’s Offense was sort of a PSAR /2020 mix, because some of his more creative elements are hard to describe. Either way, Beck had more PSAR in his background and scheme than Herman or anyone Meyer ever hired before. 

See Part 2 of this Email: A Power Spread Evolution

*Accurate to the best of my knowlege
  1. […] Ohio State progression from PS to PS Pro Part 1 – Email Archives […]

  2. […] The issue with the PSAR is it is hard to sync – not because of the Power Spread, but because the Air Raid is such a specialized philosophy and system. It must be committed to fully and focused on repeatedly in practice. It isn’t easy to mix the full AR with other concepts. Guys like Lincoln Riley and Kliff Kingsbury have done it brilliantly, but it’s not for everyone. […]

  3. […] a big splash as CO-OC of LSU this year and his work with Joe Burrow, but it’s not just him. Ryan Day of OSU has also implemented his own version of PS Pro. Lincoln Riley of Oklahoma is running a sort of PS […]

  4. […] NFL Playoffs have been dominated by two main themes in this changing Football […]

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